Ten minutes later, the head Sherpa on Hall’s team came on the radio.
“Lincoln Hall is in big trouble and needs your help,” said Mazur.
There was a long pause. “You mean he’s alive? How alive is he?”
“Well, he’s moving around, he’s talking,” said Mazur, exasperated. “We need extra food, water and oxygen to get him down. Otherwise he’s not going to make it.”
Mazur insisted the man put Hall’s leader, Alex Abramov, on the phone.
“You’ve got some guys in high camp, right? Send them up!” he told Abramov. The Russian climber agreed to send all the Sherpas he could gather.
“You can’t blame the Sherpas for leaving Hall on the mountain,” says Mazur. “It’s their job to help us climb, but it’s not their job to die.”
For more than four hours, Mazur and his team waited, stomping their feet and pacing on the small snow-packed ledge to stay warm.
“We were all pretty quiet,” recalls Brash, who had spent years training to climb Everest. “It was disappointed silence. We knew we weren’t going to get to the summit.”
At that point, no one knew if Hall was going to live. He shivered uncontrollably and his head jerked up and down. He was suffering from snow blindness, common at high altitude on such a bright, clear day. His fingers were so frozen they looked like pale yellow wax.
The team was relieved when two Italian climbers suddenly appeared on the ledge.
“Good morning!” said Mazur. “We’ve got a guy in trouble here! Can you help?” The men kept moving toward the summit. “Sorry, no speak English” was all they said. Mazur would spot them later at base camp, speaking English very well. “All I can say is, God bless their souls.”
It was almost noon when a dozen Sherpas finally arrived to help take Hall down the mountain. With a guide on either side of him, he was able to walk down to high camp. From there, he rode a yak to base, bumping down the mountain on a saddle made of foam sleeping mats.
It took Mazur and his team two days to make their own way down. As soon as they arrived, they went to visit Hall, who was recuperating in his tent before the 100-mile trip to a hospital in Katmandu.
I hope that after all this, he’s a nice guy, Mazur thought.
He wasn’t disappointed. Although Hall was still groggy and slurring his words, they clearly understood when he said thank you for saving his life.
Hall would need surgery to amputate the tips of six fingers. Still, he knows he’s a lucky man, that he could very well have become the 12th person to die on Everest this year — the deadliest season since the 1996 tragedy. Although his rescue is miraculous, it has sparked a debate about climbers who leave behind the sick and injured in pursuit of Everest’s grand prize.
Even Sir Edmund Hillary, the first to reach Everest’s summit in 1953, chimed in with disgust when he learned that 40 climbers had passed by Britain’s David Sharp.
“People have completely lost sight of what is important,” he told a New Zealand newspaper. “In our expedition, there was never any likelihood whatsoever if one member of the party was incapacitated that we would just leave him to die.”
Mazur doesn’t know whether much can be done to prevent future deaths. The allure of the world’s highest peak is so great, he knows, climbers will continue to gamble everything for a few minutes at the top.
“It’s such a personal challenge — once you’re up there, you feel as though you could do anything,” he says. “Sure, I wish I could have reached the summit again. But there’s no way we could have left Lincoln Hall on that ridge. If we’d done that, the odds are he wouldn’t be alive today. And I would have to live with that for the rest of my life.”